It’s hard to be a competitive person by nature, and to channel that trait in parenting active and athletic boys (good thing my boys are not anywhere near Olympic potential or I’d surely be in trouble!). I stress out enough as it is, trying to instill the values of sportsmanship, of having fun, of playing your best, of staying in there for your team, of respecting and listening to your coach, of learning the game and not worrying about the score. After all, let’s be honest – the boys are only 8 and 6! Of course, these little guys are hard-wired to be competitive – you don’t have to keep score, they keep it themselves! They know who won! So my typical pep talk has nothing to do with scores or winning, despite what my loud cheering on the sidelines might lead you to believe otherwise.
This Spring my older two played flag football (not “real” football because I’m a mother and I’m a pediatrician and I have a fetish about keeping brains intact). My eldest is not a natural at football but he seems to really enjoy playing and names it consistently as his favorite sport. So we arrived on the field and I was all smiles and happy to find out that he’d be coached this season by a former NFL player. Wow. Swoon. Or not.
Soon I was dealing with a sad, disappointed player who spent more time on the sidelines than he did on the field. And when on the field, he was allowed only one chance to actually carry the football, because there were 3 or 4 other players who were really good players. And they got to be quarterback and they got to be running back and they got to catch the ball and run. And it gets a little hard to have your boy look you in the eye and say, “Why don’t I get to play, Mom?” (especially when you know you paid $140 for your kid to PLAY!)
At the end of the first game, the coach went around the circle and told every single boy what he noticed about their play during the game. “S, way to get the flag that time.” “J, excellent run, you had great speed today.” “The medal goes to JL for that end-of-the game interception.” And when he got to Super Tall Guy who was last, he said, “Um, you man, you have two eyes.” Ouch. Now there’s a self-esteem builder. Two eyes. Fortunately Super Tall Guy is not socially savvy enough to know that he was just offended – but his mother is.
So, the next week, I decided to double check my perception. I grabbed a notecard and a Sharpie from the gym bag and recorded who was off the field in the first half. Kid #15 was on the sideline for 16 plays (his mom said he asked her if he could play his DS — I mean, really?!? The kid is sitting on the grass for so long that he wants to play a video game because he’s bored!) #29 was out 11 times, Super Tall Guy was out 9 times….and the two coaches’ sons stayed in the entire half.
Don’t mess with Mama Bear.
Being much more bold than I almost EVER am, I marched right up (timidly) to that 6 ft- 4 in muscular giant and said, “Coach, you are not rotating the kids evenly. Some of them are spending a lot of time on the sidelines” and I showed him the card. My heart pounded!! He looked down at me and said, “I play them only if they are paying attention and every kid gets to carry the ball once.” Once? That’s football?! You get to touch the ball one time?! And you want 8 year olds to sit on the sideline and learn by watching? I believe developmental research indicates that children learn by doing! Heck – most adults learn by doing!
Shaking from the interaction, I returned to the other side of the field and watched Super Tall Guy get out on the field at least a little a bit more that week. Over the rest of the season, though, he was called up mostly when the team was on defense (he’s a solid mass, probably seems more intimidating than his actual flag-pulling ability). And if he got on the field for offense, he got to snap the ball – and get his one carry. Not only did Super Tall Guy notice this, but the coaches of the teams we played against also noticed that the talented players played more.
Believe me, I’m not naive. I understand sports. I know that you’re not going to be able to
play if you’re goofing around. I know you have to work hard. And some day, if my boys want to try out for a school team and expect to play in the games, they are going to have to figure it out. I won’t be coddling them. But for this season, I invested in this particular sports league because of its promise to be non-competitive, to focus on the joy of the game and learning all aspects of the game, and to play every kid an equal amount of time. I want my boys to have fun. I want Super Tall Guy to feel like he is part of a team. I want him to look forward to the games.
Super Tall Guy has played two other seasons in this league. He’s not dumb. He knows this isn’t right or fair. But he also can’t quite figure this out in words. He can’t express the disappointment he’s feeling. And he’s certainly too shy to try to talk to a coach. Until he learns how to stand up for himself and be able to demand what he is due – until that day, then it is my job.
I do not like confrontation. I am a peace-maker. But I will also fight for fairness and justice for my boys, for your boys, for your girls, for all children.
I asked Super Tall Guy to write a thank you note to each coach as we do every season the boys play. He wrote it willingly, sealed the envelops and addressed them to “Coack” (spelling his own). I know the coaches volunteer. I am grateful for their willingness to share their time and talent. I truly am. But I will also hold them to a high standard when they touch the life of a child.
Sure glad to be done with this season. Tiger Sports Mom is moving on.